Wednesday, August 13

10 Days Of Vacation

Day 21: Salt Creek, CA

Who would have thought I could satisfy my curiosity of all things fish in the middle of Death Valley?

Death Valley National Park is extreme in every conceivable way. The hottest temperature in the country, 134F, was recorded here. The lowest point on the continent, -282', is here. From this lowest point, the highest point in the lower 48 states can be seen, Mt. Whitney at 14,505'. The aridity is total, the occasional storms magnificent. Over 400 animal and 1,000 plant species live here. It is a hostile, foreign, forbidding place. It is also a place of extreme beauty, and surprises at every milepost.

Salt Creek is far and away my favorite place here. It is small in comparison to the vast salt flats, dunes, and mountains that surround it, but the half mile trail is a microcosm all its own. To protect this extremely (there's that word again) fragile ecosystem, hikers are confined to a boardwalk that winds around the creek. In places it is only a foot or so across and a few inches deep, depending on the time of year. This is a green spot in a region otherwise dominated by tans, greys, and whites. The plants seem almost blasted into submission, clinging stubbornly to the rim of this tiny stream, gnarled and short. As you progress along the walkway, the creek widens at points, allowing for some shallow pools. In these pools is an astonishing site: the Salt
Creek pupfish. Only a few inches long, these fish avoid predators by hiding among the rushes and algae. In the spring, the male turns a bluish color and collects a harem. As the males vie for spawning territory and females, they chase each other like puppies, giving rise to their common name. These are tough little animals. They have evolved to deal with low water levels, fluctuations in temperature, salinity, and oxygen levels, limited food sources, and all the other vagaries of a harsh environment. They have survived, and continue to thrive only in this small stretch of water, provided we continue to protect them. To the casual uneducated visitor, these might be just another minnow. To me, they are one of the natural world's greatest treasures.

To the north lives a famous relative in ichthyology, the Devil's Hole pupfish. One of the most endangered fish in the world, the only location where it lives is closed to the public. There are a number of other
pupfish species, all related, all rare, and all tiny, precious jewels in the desert landscape. I am so fascinated by them I named our family boat the Pupfish.

Teasers on the trip: Badwater, Stovepipe Wells, Rhyolite Ghost Town, racing rocks

1 comment:

rennratt said...

I like to be toasty warm, but I suspect that 134 may be a little too warm even for me!